“Is Syria likely to attack Israel directly? It is possible–most likely via a deniable terrorist attack by a mysterious group. That is exactly how Syria is now trying to undermine Lebanon, with many in the West swallowing the propaganda that Fatah al-Islam is a shadowy al-Qaida branch rather than a Syrian surrogate. More likely, Syria might use Hizballah in a year or so to launch another attack on Israel. But next time, Israel might retaliate against the sponsor of the aggression–Syria–unlike what happened in summer 2006″.Barry Rubin
By Jamie Glazov, FrontPageMagazine.com, June 1, 2007
Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Barry Rubin, director of the Global Research for International Affairs (GLORIA) Center of the Interdisciplinary university (IDC), and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal and of Turkish Studies journal. He is the author of The Long War for Freedom, Yasir Arafat, The Tragedy of the Middle East, and Hating America. His articles have appeared in The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Foreign Affairs, and many other publications. He has been a Council on Foreign Relations Fellow and is the editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs. He is the author of the new book The Truth about Syria. CONTINUE
More evidence of Syria’s active abetting of jihad activity. By Christopher Allbritton in the Washington Times, with thanks to all who sent this in:
NAHR EL-BARED, Lebanon — Heavily armed foreign jihadists have been entering Lebanon from Syria from around the time Western authorities noticed a drop in the infiltration of foreign fighters from Syria to Iraq, Lebanese officials say.Syrian authorities, hoping to disrupt Lebanon so they can reassert control of the country, “have stopped sending [the jihadists] to Iraq and are now sending them here,” charged Mohammed Salam, a specialist in Palestinian affairs in Lebanon. “They sent those people to die in Lebanon.”
Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi, commander of Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces, said about half of the militants who have been battling Lebanese forces in the Nahr el-Bared refugee camp outside Tripoli for nine days had fought previously in Iraq.
“They are very dangerous,” he said in an interview. “We have no choice, we have to combat them.”
The prime assassination suspect, Syria, will respond to the UN move by stepping up support for Palestinian Islamists battling the Lebanese army and for Iranian-backed Hezbollah, which (a) aims to control Lebanon, and (b) is preparing for war with Israel. With Syrian help, Iran has rearmed its Shiite proxy; and the stage is set for a new round of rocket assaults against the Jewish state.
Hezbollah has tens of thousands rockets ready to go, while, in the south, Syrian-Iranian Palestinian ally, Hamas, has also achieved unprecedented levels of armament and is actively preparing for full-blown war.
Contrary to Israeli and American expectations, Syria will not sit out the conflict; rather, it will seize the opportunity to divert attention from its role in the Hariri killing–which was personally approved by Syria’s dictator, Bashar Assad–by making every effort possible to defeat Israel and erase the stain of perceived humiliation dating 40 years to the Six-Day War of June 1967, which resulted in Syria’s loss of the strategic Golan Heights to Israel.
Assad’s father, Hafez, tried and failed to liberate Golan in the Yom Kippur War of October 1973, although he did succeed in regaining some lost territory in susbequent, American-sponsored peace talks. His son, who has been in power since 2000, feels conditions are ripe for victory. Threatened by a rising Islamist movement (which his father managed to crush), the present despot of Damascus has decided to roll the dice with Tehran’s turbaned tyrants. The Baathist buzz in the Syrian capital is that the once-ridiculed Bashar could ironically emerge as the Arab world’s next hero in its decades-old struggle against the “Zionist entity.”
Ahead of all-out war, Assad will escalate tensions by stirring the terrorist pot in Lebanon–and on Israel’s borders.
Hariri’s assassination was the latest in a long line of Syrian-sponsored political killings in Lebanon. The billionaire politician and 22 others were killed in a massive car bomb in the capital, Beirut, on 14 February 2005.
An interim UN investigation found Hariri’s killing was “probably” politically motivated and has implicated Syria, which has naturally denied any involvement in his death.
The killing recalled Syria’s Soviet-supported assassination of Lebanese president-elect Bachir Gemayel in September 1982. The charismatic, beloved Maronite Christian leader–who was the son of the Phalangist party founder and leader Pierre Gemayel–was murdered nine days before he was due to take office, along with 25 others, in an explosion at party headquarters in the Maronite stronghold of Achrafieh.
Five years ealrier, in March of 1977, Lebanon’s Druze leader, Kamal Jumblat, was assassinated by the pro-Syrian faction of the Lebanese Syrian Socialist Nationalist Party. Syrian intelligence officers collaborated in the killing. Jumblat was shot and killed in his car by four gunmen a few meters from a Syrian check point.
Jumblat’s son, Walid, who has succeeded his father as Druze leader, has also been threatened by Syria. An unsuccessful attempt on the life of a political ally was widely regarded as a Syrian signal.
Lebanon Fights Al-Qaeda
By Micah Halpern
MicahHalpern.com | May 22, 2007
For a long time the international community has thought of Lebanon as a wash out, a puppet state, a sorry, unfortunate mess. It’s time to take a new look at this small, Arab, Middle-Eastern country. The eyes of the Western world should begin focusing on Lebanon.
The Lebanese Army is now engaged in a serious fight with a new enemy, Fatah al Islam. This group, led by a Palestinian named Shahr al Abassi, came into existence only last year as a break-off from a Syrian-backed Sunni fighting group. Fatah al Islam is composed of Syrian, Lebanese, and Palestinian fighters. Lebanon’s new nemesis was created in the image of al Qaeda, espousing al Qaeda beliefs and pursuing al Qaeda goals.
Fatah al Islam is probably – nay, almost certainly, sponsored by Syria. The ultimate mission of this group is to bring disorder and unrest to Lebanon. The short term goal is to act as a distraction thereby preventing any investigation into the assassination of beloved, anti-Syrian, independent, Lebanese leader Harriri – believed by the Lebanese and the free world to have been brutally murdered by the Syrians.
The fighting is fierce. In one day of battle the death tally was nineteen for Fatah al Islam, thirteen for the Lebanese army, six civilians caught in the crossfire and sixty civilians wounded. This particular battle took place in a refugee camp just outside of Tripoli. Fatah al Islam claims that their group is being targeted unjustifiably by the Lebanese army and that there will be just payment in return for the attacks against them. Turns out that in this case members of the group had robbed a bank and all the army was doing was doing their job and attempting to arrest the culprits.
The emergence of Fatah al Islam in Lebanon and the response of the Lebanese army to fight Fatah al Islam offer us several important insights into the new workings within Lebanon and the new reality of al Qaeda terrorists.
Al Qaeda is in Lebanon.
Al Qaeda today is not the al Qaeda the Western world was first introduced to, an al Qaeda headed by a very active Osama bin Laden. Today, al Qaeda is a very loosely linked structure. New al Qaeda groups all agree with the principles of al Qaeda – they are tutored through the al Qaeda-terrorist-DVD box set, they tune in to al Qaeda websites and receive spiritual support from the network that al Qaeda established and continues to develop. But this new generation of al Qaeda-ists has never been to an al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan. This new generation is locally trained and sponsored. This is the fresh, new face of al Qaeda, this is al Qaeda as we are seeing it emerge in Lebanon.
The Lebanese Army is at last making a stand for honor, country and control.
The future might be changing for the people of Lebanon. Lebanon has been a country hesitant to act on its own behalf, frustrated and impotent in the face of stronger military and governmental elements. Now, thanks to the support and encouragement of the Germans and the Italians, the Lebanese are actually starting to police Lebanon. The Lebanese are beginning to put an end to the days when Hezbollah and other outside and terrorist groups simply ran roughshod over their country. The border with Syria is still not totally sealed, but Germany and Lebanon are endeavoring to work out a system that will better secure the border. The proof is that the Lebanese army has actually confiscated convoys of weapons – not enough and not all, but more than they ever did before. And, not at all surprisingly, Hezbollah has demanded that their weapons be returned.
Terrorists are actually thieves and thugs.
It is essential to see terrorists for what they truly are – all around bad guys. Terrorists don’t only kidnap and bomb, terrorists murder for the thrill of it, they rape because they feel like it, they rob banks. Terrorists use their guns to terrorize locals – in Lebanon and every place else they can be found. Terrorists are not freedom fighters, they are thugs with weapons creating their own wild, wild, West. They use fear and intimidation to get what they want. And what they want is often religious submission, but it is also material goods and cold, hard cash. In this case, in this Lebanese refugee camp, the terrorists truly showed their hand.
Sunni/Shiite conflicts are well-documented but there are also Sunni/Sunni conflicts.
Intra-Sunni conflicts are not about religious orientation and dominance. Intra-Sunni conflicts are about law and order, about politics and power. Fatah al Islam does not want law and order, Fatah al Islam refuses to accept the power of elected politics. Fatah al Islam refuses to accept that the people of Lebanon have spoken and they want law and order and they want an investigation into the Harriri assassination. Fatah al Islam wants and respects only what Fatah al Islam wants.
Syria is still the power and influence behind much of what happens in Lebanon.
And not for the better. The reality is that the Syrian flag waves behind almost all illegal activity and every group within Lebanon that challenges the authority of Lebanon. Fatah al Islam is not the lone exception. Almost every single act of violence within Lebanon is Syrian – sponsored – almost every act. Syria would like nothing more than to destabilize Lebanon and step back into power. Right now that is not happening, but nor for lack of trying on their part.
The enemies of stability are the friends of terror. Lebanon has chosen to fight those enemies. Lebanon needs the support of strong, freedom-loving, friends.
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Death toll mounts as Lebanon troops pound Islamists
May 21, 2007
NAHR AL BARED, Lebanon — Lebanese troops bombarded Islamist militiamen with tank shells and heavy artillery Monday, the second day of the bloodiest internal fighting since the civil war that has now left 55 people dead and raised fears about Lebanon’s fragile security. Nine civilians were killed in heavy shelling of a Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon, besieged by soldiers in tanks who are battling militants from the shadowy Sunni group Fatah Al Islam, a camp medic said.
Huge plumes of thick black smoke billowed into the sky over the Nahr Al Bared camp, which has been turned into a war zone by ferocious gunbattles between soldiers and Fatah Al Islam, a group accused of links to Al Qaeda and Syrian intelligence services.
Fears were mounting of a humanitarian crisis in the camp, a coastal shantytown of narrow alleyways where rescue workers were struggling to evacuate the dead and wounded, and buildings were bombed out and power supplies cut.
The international community condemned the violence and voiced support for the Lebanese government’s efforts to restore order after 46 people were killed Sunday alone.
As warships patrolled nearby coastal waters, troops were locked in heavy exchanges of artillery and machinegun fire, and a military spokesman said the army had extended its control to all camp entrances.
But Fatah Al Islam threatened to extend attacks beyond Tripoli if the army continues to pound its positions.
“The army is not only opening fire on us. It is shelling blindly. If this continues, we will carry the battle outside the city of Tripoli,” spokesman Abu Salim Taha said.
Officials voiced fears about the plight of refugees trapped in the camp, where the Red Cross was able to evacuate about 17 people during a brief lull in the fighting.
“We are deeply concerned about the developing humanitarian crisis, particularly the danger to civilian lives,” UN Palestinian refugee agency director Richard Cook said.
Doctors described seeing bodies strewn on the streets of Nahr Al Bared, which, like all refugee camps in Lebanon, remains outside the control of the government and in the hands of Palestinian factions.
“The electricity has been cut, there is not much water and the camp’s bakeries are shut,” said Hajj Rifaat, an official from the mainstream Palestinian movement, Fatah.
It is the worst explosion of violence – excluding warfare with Israel – since the 1975 to 1990 civil war and has raised fears about the stability of multi-confessional Lebanon, already in the grip of an acute political crisis.
A 63-year-old woman was also killed and 10 people wounded in a bomb blast in a Christian area of Beirut Sunday.
Over the past two years, the country has been rocked by a string of attacks, many targeting critics of the regime in neighboring Syria, which still has political clout in Lebanon despite pulling out its troops in 2005.
The gunbattles erupted at dawn Sunday after Fatah Al Islam ambushed an army post outside the camp, and spread to Lebanon’s second city of Tripoli where troops were staging an assault on a building where fighters were holed up.
That day, 27 soldiers and 17 gunmen were reported killed, in addition to a civilian and a refugee in Nahr Al Bared, home to about 30,000 of Lebanon’s estimated 400,000 Palestinian refugees.
A security official said government forces found the bodies of 10 Islamists, including Saddam Hajj Dib who was wanted over a plot to blow up trains in Germany last July, in the building stormed Sunday.
Another was identifed as Abu Yazan, Fatah Al Islam’s number three, accused of responsibility for bus bombings in February that killed three people.
Officials from the main Palestinian factions – which deny any links with Fatah Al Islam – offered to help crush the militiants in talks with Prime Minister Fuad Siniora.
“We hope to cooperate in order to eliminate the Fatah Al Islam phenomenon, on the condition innocent civilians do not pay a high price,” said Abbas Ziki, Lebanon representative of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Siniora, whose Western-backed government has been paralyzed for months by feuding between opponents of former power broker Damascus and pro-Syrian factions, said the government was determined to enforce law and order across all of Lebanon.
“We will not allow anyone to harm our unity,” he said Sunday.
The German presidency of the European Union condemned the bloodshed and called for the disarmament of militias in Lebanon while France voiced solidarity with the government.
“We call on all parties to avoid a further escalation of the conflict. We cannot allow Lebanon to be sucked into a spiral of violence again,” said German foreign ministry spokesman Martin Jaeger.
Saudi Arabia, Lebanon’s biggest foreign financier, also said it deplored the violence.
Lebanese authorities have accused Fatah Al Islam, inspired ideologically by Osama Bin Laden’s network, of working for the Syrian intelligence services, which Damascus has denied.
It is headed by Shaker Abssi, said to be linked to former Al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, who was killed in a US raid in 2006.
Islam’s War in Lebanon Against Christians
By Michael Hirst
Sunday Telegraph | April 3, 2007
Christians are fleeing Lebanon to escape political and economic crises and signs that radical Islam is on the rise in the country.
In a poll to be published next month which was exclusively leaked to The Sunday Telegraph, nearly half of all Maronites, the largest Christian denomination in the country, said they were considering emigrating. Of these, more than 100,000 have submitted visa applications to foreign embassies. Their exodus could have a devastating effect on the country, robbing it of an influential minority which has acted as an important counter-balance to the forces of Islamic extremism.
About 60,000 Christians have already left since last summer’s war between Israel and Hezbollah. Many who remain fear that a violent showdown between rival Sunni and Shia factions is looming.
“If we love our children we have to tell them to get out,” said Maria, a Christian mother of one from the northern city of Tripoli, who refused to give her surname for fear of reprisal. “When my daughter finished her high school I sent her to Europe, and I will follow her if I can.”
Christine, another Christian woman, said that all of her family’s younger generation had left the country, adding that Tripoli had become increasingly Islamised in recent years. There is a rising number of veiled women and religiously bearded men on the streets – although she blamed economic and political instability for much of the emigration. Christians, who make up 22 per cent of the population, have historically played a major role in the development of Lebanon’s political, social and cultural institutions. Currently the president, the army commander and the head of the central bank are all Maronites, and under the agreement which ended the civil war in 1989, half the 128 seats in Lebanon’s parliament are reserved for Christians.
“Lebanon has always been a bastion of religious tolerance, but now it is moving towards the model of Islamisation seen in Iraq and Egypt,” said Fr Samir Samir, a Jesuit teacher of Islamic studies at Beirut’s Université Saint-Joseph.
Lebanon’s Christian community is concerned that its influence is waning as a result of a continuing internal power struggle, which for the past five months has pitted a Sunni-led government against a predominantly Shia opposition, spearheaded by the Shia militant group Hezbollah. The collapse in influence has been exacerbated by a roughly equal spilt in support among Christians for rival Shia and Sunni leaders. The battle between Muslim factions has paralysed the Lebanese administration and crippled the economy.
The exodus of young workers crosses the religious spectrum. Some 22 per cent of Shias and 26 per cent of Sunnis say they are considering going abroad, according to the study by Information International, an independent Beirut-based research body.
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Syria negotiates with its knife on the table, dripping with blood
The Middle East on a Collision Course (3): The Lebanese-Syrian Front
Since the demonstrations of January 23 and 25, 2007 ended, calm has prevailed in the Lebanese streets. In addition, opposition leaders have stressed in their statements the aspect of a nonviolent political resolution to the crisis, and have reiterated to the Lebanese people, and particularly to their own public, that they must not be dragged into civil war. Various sources reported that the calm that currently prevails in Lebanon was the result of Iranian influence. This influence is so great that Lebanese sources have argued that the Lebanon crisis is no longer an internal matter, but is now dependent upon a regional settlement that could impose a new reality on the forces in Lebanon and even force them to make certain concessions. 
The stumbling block for any regional settlement is Syria, which is vehemently opposed to an international tribunal for the Al-Hariri assassination. As noted in a previous MEMRI report,  it was Syria that thwarted the draft agreement for Lebanon drawn up a few weeks ago by Saudi Arabia and Iran. As a result of Syria’s refusal, violent clashes broke out in Lebanon.  However, after the clashes were stopped, Iranian-Saudi contacts were resumed and Lebanese sources reported that some progress had been made. The Saudi daily Okaz also reported that Iran would pressure Syriato accept a settlement that would include approval of the international tribunal. 
The difficulty in finding a solution for the Lebanese crisis is not only due to the Syrian position, but is also the result of the overall complexity of the situation in the region. The regional initiatives focus not only on Lebanon and Syria, but also on other issues, both regional and global, including: oil issues, Saudi-Iranian relations, Sunni-Shi’ite tensions, the insurgency in Iraq, Iran’s nuclear program, U.S.-Russia relations, and the struggle for influence in the Middle East and in the countries of the former Soviet Union.
In a February 5, 2007 article in the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, which is close to Hizbullah, the daily’s editor Ibrahim Al-Amin revealed that the talks between Saudi National Security Council Chairman Bandar bin Sultan and top U.S. officials had failed, and that the U.S. had rejected Iran’s and Syria’s conditions. According to Al-Amin, this meant that the fire would continue to rage and that no settlement was on the horizon. Al-Amin added that Lebanon was facing difficult days.
Following the violent clashes in Lebanon on January 23 and 25, the positions expressed by Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah clearly became more moderate. In a speech on January 30, 2007 marking the anniversary of the Karbala massacre, Nasrallah announced that a solution to the crisis must take the form of a political settlement: “We in the opposition believe that the solution and the settlement can only be a political [solution]…”
Recently, Nasrallah has devoted significant portions of his speeches to calling on the public supporting the opposition to be restrained and temperate, and under no circumstances to be dragged into violence and civil war. Nasrallah also warned the Lebanese not to take vengeance into their own hands, because the [unity of the] state and of the military had to be protected. He also said that the weapons of the Lebanese resistance must not be used in the domestic arena, and stressed that civil war and war between Sunnis and Shi’ites were lines that must not be crossed. 
On February 3, 2007, the Hizbullah website reported that “Lebanon has entered a stage of…cautious calm and undeclared hudna [temporary ceasefire], in anticipation of the results of the Saudi-Iranian efforts concerning the Lebanon crisis.”  The Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar also reported that the opposition leaders had decided to give these diplomatic contacts a chance to bring about a solution to the crisis.  Likewise, opposition leaders have issued no harsh statements or threats to again escalate the situation.
Continued Mediation Efforts Fail; Sources Close to Hizbullah and Syria: “The Region Will Continue to Burn”
At the same time, Saudi-Iranian contacts have been continuing, in attempts to find a solution to the Lebanese crisis. Al-Akhbar, representing the Syria-Hizbullah axis, reported that the main obstacle in these contacts was the issue of the international tribunal, and mentioned the possibility that this issue would be postponed until the investigation of the assassination was completed. 
Sa’d Al-Hariri, a leader of the March 14 Forces, who visited Russia to learn its position on the international tribunal, was informed by the Russian Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee chairman that Russia did not support “unnecessary haste” in investigating the assassination. Likewise, Russian National Security Council Secretary Igor Ivanov said that “the establishment of the international tribunal must not be a source of instability in Lebanese society…”  Ivanov also rejected Al-Hariri’s request that the international tribunal be approved by the U.N. Security Council without the signature of either the Lebanese parliament or the Lebanese president, who is known to be Syria’s protégé. Moreover, Russia also refused to announce its support for the government of Fuad Al-Siniora, because Russia supports only a national unity government in Lebanon, which is Hizbullah’s position. 
Saudi National Security Council Chairman Bandar bin Sultan, who is conducting the contacts for Saudi Arabia, went to the U.S. to discuss the crisis. In a February 5, 2007 article, Ibrahim Al-Amin reported that during the visit bin Sultan had failed to obtain U.S. backing for the understandings reached by Iran and Saudi Arabia. He wrote that Iran and Syria know that only the U.S. can provide the guarantees that they want – namely, guarantees that they will not be attacked. Therefore, bin Sultan conveyed the following messages to his American hosts: If the U.S. wants Iran and Syria to help it reduce its losses in Iraq, Palestine, and Lebanon, it must agree to a ‘give and take’ deal. Likewise, the U.S. cannot demand that Syria and Iran hand over all their cards. Al-Amin also stated that the U.S. had told bin Sultan that it had no intention of giving up on either the Iranian nuclear issue or on the issue of the international tribunal. As a result, Al-Amin claimed, an agreement would not be reached any time soon, and the region would continue to burn. Al-Amin concluded by saying that “Lebanon is facing difficult days” and that the opposition forces had to decide, now more than ever, which path they would take in the next phase. 
In recent days, various sources have been reporting on the possibility that Arab League Secretary-General ‘Amr Moussa would return to Lebanon in order to renew his initiative for settling the crisis. Moussa, who is currently in Russia and who met there with top Russian officials, sent the director of his office to Lebanon on February 5 to begin talks with the various forces in Lebanon.
Lebanese opposition sources claimed that Moussa’s upcoming visit will be the last chance to discuss a solution that deals with the national unity government and with the international tribunal, but leaves the issue of early parliamentary elections for discussion by the future unity government. The sources added that were Moussa’s initiative to fail, the opposition would make an “irreversible” decision – to demand the establishment of a transitional government that would pass a new elections law and hold early parliamentary elections. The sources added that in such an event, all attempts by the March 14 Forces to intimidate the Lebanese public by invoking the specter of civil war would be useless, and that the opposition would be forced to escalate its activity to the maximum. 
A New Syrian Approach to the United States
In a February 5, 2007 interview for the American ABC TV, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad expressed his willingness to help broker peace, saying: “We [i.e. Syria] have credibility. We have good relations with the other factions. They should trust [us] to be able to play a role. We have [these] good relations with all the parties, including the parties participating in this government, and the others who oppose the political process. So that’s how we can help.” 
This new Syrian openness to U.S. apparently stems from the fact that Iranian-Saudi negotiations for a settlement are continuing, and Assad feels that Iran is about to waive his vital interest – that is, his demand to postpone the approval of the international tribunal.
* H. Varulkar is a Research Fellow at MEMRI.
 ‘Okaz (Saudi Arabia), January 30, 2007.
 MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 320, “The Middle East on a Collision Course (1): Recent Saudi-Iranian Contacts to Resolve the Lebanon Crisis,” January 26, 2007, http://memri.org/bin/latestnews.cgi?ID=IA32007.
 It should be noted that Syrian sources denied reports that Syria had thwarted the Saudi-Iranian agreement, saying that the reports were aimed at harming Syria. The sources added that Syria knew nothing about any Saudi-Iranian initiative, but only about an exchange of ideas between the two countries. According to these sources, Syria was not setting any conditions for efforts to resolve the Lebanon crisis, and supported anything acceptable to the Lebanese. Al-Akhbar, Lebanon, February 2, 2007.
 Okaz (Saudi Arabia), January 30, 2007.
 Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), February 1, 2007.
 Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), February 1, 2007, February 2, 2007.
 Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), February 1, 2007.
 Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), February 2, 2007. The paper also reported that Al-Hariri had conveyed to Russia a Saudi request that after his visit to Saudi Arabia, Russian President Vladimir Putin would not visit Qatar, but the request was refused.
 Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), February 5, 2007.